Maryland's poor, African-American communities suffer disproportionate cancer risk from air pollution

Maryland communities that are poor and predominantly African-American incur a disproportionate cancer risk from ambient exposure to airborne toxins, according to researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Their study revealed that among Maryland census tracts, the poorer the community and the higher the proportion of African-Americans, the greater the residents' cancer risk from air toxics. Further, the researchers were able to identify the sources underlying the inequities. Both traffic and area sources (e.g., dry cleaners and gas stations) were primarily responsible, in contrast to point sources (e.g., power plants, heavy industry) and non-road mobile sources (e.g., construction, farm vehicles and airplanes), which were more evenly distributed across Maryland's economic and racial strata. The study is published in the June 2005 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

"The inequity in risk from air toxins shown by this study represents yet another public health strike against that segment of Maryland's population that can least afford it," said Benjamin Apelberg, MHS, lead author of the study and a graduate student in the Bloomberg School's Department of Epidemiology.

The researchers compared cancer risk estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Air Toxics Assessment to the racial and socioeconomic characteristics of Maryland communities found in the 2000 U.S. Census. The EPA's assessment of lifetime cancer risk, which is based on exposure to 29 toxic air pollutants, is based on a nationwide inventory of sources and emissions and accounts for atmospheric transport of the pollutants, human activity patterns and the carcinogenic potency of the air pollutants.

Apelberg and his coauthors found that census tracts in the lowest quartile of median household income were 15- to 100-fold more likely to be at high risk of cancer from air toxins. In addition,communities with higher proportion

Contact: Kenna L. Lowe
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

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